“Dream Land Burning” by Jennifer Latham Burned a Hole in my Soul

I review quite a few young adult books because I am a high school teacher and our school librarian has created an out of this world book club that would make any bibliophile salivate. She brings in the most amazing authors of  a diverse array of young adult and adult works.  Last year, she invited Jennifer Latham to discuss her book, Dreamland Burning. Now I love a good mystery book as much as the next; however, this book made my soul shiver. To begin, the book crosses between two eras in Oklahoma history: modern day and 1921. 1921 is a pivotal period in Oklahoma history, for it was the year of the Tulsa Race Riots. The Tulsa Race Riots occurred during a period of heightened racial turmoil in U.S. History following the conclusion of WWI. Latham visited our book club when she was still a resident of Oklahoma and she shared the amount of research she conducted for her book. Her firsthand research and interviews with survivors and their descendants is what makes this book so enthralling. 

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She centers her story around Rowan Chase a teenage biracial amateur detective  who accidentally unearths a skeleton dating back to the 1920s  in her backyard during a renovation. As the police and Rowan work to recreate the story surrounding the skeleton, Rowan finds herself unraveling a past steeped in racism, blood, and tears that many members of the community white and black have tried to keep buried. Not only does the author give an account of the consequences of violent white supremacy in the 1920s that led to the riots but also incorporates the little known story of the Osage Nation with William the teenage son of a white Oklahoman man and Osage woman who survived the riot. I was aware of the Tulsa Race Riots and have given many lectures on it in school. However, I was unaware of the specific injustices the Osage Nation suffered in the 192os. The Osage Nation had become one of the wealthiest Native American tribes in America at the turn of the century after oil deposits were found on their reservation. The Oklahoma state legislature passed a law requiring the finances and spending habit of Osage Indians to be overseen by whites. Many white men married Osage women preceding a spike in mysterious murders and suspicious deaths of Osage women.

While Rowan attempts to process the events that led to the 1920s riot, she finds herself at the center of a racially charged uprising in her own time involving a fatal incident of police brutality and the plight of undocumented immigrants attempting to make a better life in Oklahoma.  

This book is a MUST READ. It is a great source of historical fiction but it is an equally  awesome “Who done it?” The ending is not predictable!!! I loved it and I hope that this book is one day turned into a film.

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